Symbiosis at the Society: Fellows and Librarians Learn Together

By Dan Hinchen

A few weeks ago the Beehive featured an item about the 2014-2015 Fellowship recipients and their research projects for the coming year. This great opportunity for scholars to come and do funded research also is an opportunity for the MHS librarians to expose ourselves to subjects and collections that we otherwise do not interact with.

Each year, the reference librarians here look at the projects to be undertaken by the incoming research fellows and divide them up so that we can serve as individual liaisons for the various fellows. We choose which fellows to liaise with based on our own interest and background knowledge of the projects. This benefits the fellows by providing a specific person to contact if they have trouble navigating our collections or just need someone to bounce ideas off.  

Over the next year, I will be liaising with at least eleven different fellows to help them utilize the resources here at the MHS. The projects cover a wide range of subjects, including alcohol production, throat epidemics, Revolutionary War campaigns, antislavery texts, and religious reform. They also cover a long span of time, from the earliest days of the English colonies to the dawn of the Civil War.

This presents two challenges for me: to help fellows access materials they already identified using our catalog and to help them discover additional material in our collection that they missed. Perhaps I am familiar with a collection that they did not find in their search; maybe I can show them resources that are not available via our online catalog; in some cases, I can suggest another institution whose collections complement the Society’s.

Again, this exchange benefits both the fellows and the MHS staff. I know already from reading through some project descriptions that I will be exposed to topics that are completely new to me or that the fellow is looking at in a new way. And with some relevant materials already identified by the research fellow, I will learn more about the collections we have here. As I scour our catalog to find more resources for the fellow, I learn more about our holdings and about strategically searching our collections, information that will certainly come in useful down the road.

Back in January I wrote a piece for the Beehive about using the Researcher as Resource. Working with our research fellows each year is another way for our librarians to expand their knowledge and to learn even more about the collections here at the MHS. 


Reader Services By the Numbers

By Elaine Grublin

As the fiscal year comes to a close it is time to examine the statistics the reader services staff compiles over the course of the year.  Here is a quick rundown of what FY2011 brought to the MHS library. 

 The library was open 287 days with an average daily attendance of 9.6 researchers.      

 We were visited by 1353 individual researchers for a total of 2766 research visits.

 718 of our researchers were using the MHS library for the first time.          

 Of those first time visitors, 314 were Massachusetts residents, 357 were out-of-state visitors, and 47 were foreign nationals.  In all we had visitors from 40 different states and more than 20 countries.

The reader services staff paged 2888 manuscripts requests and 1900 printed materials requests.  Considering that most requests require multiple boxes or volumes, that is a lot of material paged.

 Because not every researcher that uses MHS resources can visit us in person the reader services staff also answered 1335 reference emails, 70 mailed reference letters, and 1260 reference phone calls.  

The library has been experiencing a steady increase in both total readers and new readers over the past few years.  Here is hoping that trend continues into FY2012     

Emailed Reference Queries Not Received

By Elaine Grublin

We have recently experienced a problem with the MHS website email.  All emailed queries submitted to the library through the “Contact Us” page on the MHS website between August 19 and September 7 did not reach the library staff.  This includes emails sent to “Ask a Reference Question,” “General Inquiries,” and “Rights and Reproductions.” 

 Unfortunately all of these queries have been lost to the ether.  There is no way to trace the messages nor can the library staff determine who sent them.  If you submitted a query during that time period please re-submit the query either through the repaired “Contact Us” page or by sending an email directly to me at

Our library staff strives to provide timely and thorough reference service to all queries.  We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this email problem. 

A Summer of Surprises

By Elaine Grublin

Librarians love tracking statistics and studying trends. Here at the MHS our statistics show that July is typically the busiest month of the year and February is typically the slowest. Generally speaking we use this information to make informed decisions about scheduling staff, arranging vacations, planning for long term projects, and determining how to best serve our researchers.

This summer everything the library staff thought they knew about summer trends flew out the window. As I mentioned, July is traditionally our busiest month of the year. Looking back at the statistics for the previous five summers, we averaged 380 daily visits to the library in the month of July. Last year, we had a record setting 444 daily visits from 202 individual researchers.

This summer the reader services staff was set, mentally and physically, to weather the July storm. We had extra part-time hours scheduled; we told everyone to wear their sneakers for ease of running up and down the stairs to the stacks; staff meetings were filled with pep talks and words of wisdom from veteran staff members. Then the storm appeared to pass us by. Our July numbers were way down. We had only 334 daily visits, by 141 individual researchers. Far below our averages! We scratched our heads wondering where the researchers had gone. Perhaps it was a sign of the struggling economy — lack of funding available for extended research trips or family vacations to Boston. We did not know.

But the storm was waiting, gathering strength. It struck in August. Statistically speaking August is a refreshing change of pace after the July rush. The past five years show an average of 260 daily visits in the month. Last summer we had only 220 daily visits from 124 individual researchers. So far this month we have already seen more than 340 daily August visits from 148 individual researchers.

Along similar lines, it is almost unheard of to have a day where twenty or more individual researchers visit the reading room in August. In July it is typical, but in the last five Augusts it has only happened once — August of 2009. This summer we have already had five days with twenty or more researchers, hitting a 2010 high of twenty-six researchers on August 12th.

Long story short, what looked like it was shaping up to be a slow summer, was indeed just a statistically unusual summer, proving to be the busiest summer we have seen in the recent past. Perhaps the airlines and hotels were offering better fares in August this summer. We will need to look at why this happened. Yet with two business days remaining in the month, the library already surpassed the total number of researchers for the combined months of July and August for the past five years, reaching 675 total visits as of Saturday.

Now we must wait until next summer to see if this is an emerging trend, or just a statistical anomaly.